English Text from Virginia Taylor’s book “Two Families of Mauritius” – Texte français par Noel Régnard. Extrait du dictionnaire de biographie mauricienne.
Percy Mayer (1903) < Edwin “Ned” Mayer (1875) < Edgard Mayer (1844) < Mathilde de Chazal (1813) < Toussaint de Chazal (1770) < Régis de Chazal (1735) < Noble Aimé de Chazal (1706) < Jean-Baptiste Chazal (16..) < Jean II Chazal (16..) < Jean I Chazal (16..)
I found another one taken before the war which might bring back memories to some people.
He is obviously in the uniform of an aviator; I don’t know if it is that of a commercial or air force pilot.
Paul Mayer (son of Percy Mayer)
Text from Virginia Taylor’s book “Two Families of Mauritius”:
Percy Edward Mayer OBE MC Croix de Guerre 1903-1985
Percy, the second son of Ned Mayer, was born in Phoenix, Mauritius. After completing his education at the Royal College he was financed by Andre de Chazal to study engineering in London 1922-1926. After passing his degree he joined his father who had started a business, Edwin Mayer & Co Ltd, in Madagascar in 1917. A man of great energy and foresight, Percy did a great deal to develop that country. Among other things he pioneered the road between Majunga and Tananarive through almost impossible obstacles, a route still used to this day. In 1935 he obtained his pilot’s licence and started an aircraft agency and charter company. (The difficult terrain and lack of good roads in Madagascar made flying an inevitable asset). In the same year he took out French citizenship for business reasons. He had many adventures and was once lost in the swamps for four or five days. In 1937 an Air Rally was held in France for French Colonials, Percy won first prize and qualified for a commercial pilot’s licence. In the same year he met his cousin Berthe Mayer in London where she was studying music and he married her later when she came out to Mauritius on holiday in August 1938. The ceremony took place in the Swedenborg Church and the couple returned to Madagascar.
In 1939 when war broke out, Madagascar declared itself pro-Vichy French. Percy had foreseen trouble and was determined to find a way to help the Allied cause. He contacted Lord Twining, head of allied forces in Mauritius, and was briefed about the Todd Mission. At the beginning of the war, he sailed a yacht clandestinely from Manjunga and was picked up (yacht and all) by a Bank Line ship and brought to Durban where he reported to the Todd Mission, an undercover project run by Special Operations Executive. He was briefed, given two battery-operated transmitters, and sent back to land secretly somewhere in the south of Madagascar. The transmitters were hidden in a paravane towed under the surface by his yacht. On landing he buried the equipment in the sand and returned later with his brother to retrieve it. It was then concealed in the attic of their house and both Percy and Berthe, having gleaned what information they could during the course of his work and their daily activities, sent messages at night to Military Headquarters in South Africa. Percy operated under the code name of “Carson” and became the mission’s chief agent in the island.
Madagascar, rich in minerals needed for weapons of war and strategically placed on the convoy route to the Middle East, was the centre of attention for both German and Japanese submarines. Their work was therefore of the utmost importance and as Percy was frequently away on business Berthe was often left to bear the responsibility alone. Their house was on the outskirts of Tananarive and therefore in a vulnerable position, the transmissions being more easily located by radio detection when isolated from other dwellings. They had some narrow escapes. At one stage a band of military police turned the house upside down when Berthe was alone at home, but the transmitter was never found.
The great strain on a young mother with two young babies can well be imagined (Paul was born in January 1940 and Alix in January 1942). One incident Percy told me about concerned two shiploads of graphite which were intercepted by the South African Government solely through Berthe’s efforts. In the end Percy was arrested on suspicion. He was tried and condemned to death, having been betrayed by a fellow prisoner who saw him attempting to flush his notes down the lavatory;, when the invasion force arrived in Diego Suarez in May 1942 he was rescued in the nick of time by an officer of the invading force, Colonel Richard Broad. Percy returned to South Africa with Col Broad, but the rest of the island still had to be overcome, and Berthe carried on her work alone for three months until he was able to join her in August, now when he arrived with General Platt. Col. Broad remembers her transmitting in the loft while her uncle, Mr Brown, sat on the stairs with a loaded revolver.
Here is a quotation from “Baker Street Irregular” by Bickham Sweet-Escott of the Allied Secret Service p119
“Further south a new field had opened for our work in Madagascar. Since the autumn of 1941 we had established wireless communication with this island where a remarkable couple called Mayer had been working for us. There was little they could usefully arrange to do in the way of sabotage but they were able to serve as a centre for spreading underground anti-Vichy propaganda. To reconnoitre the possibilities of subversion and bribery, and above all, to send out a steam of intelligence, and when operation Ironclad, the assault on Diego Suarez, really became a practical possibility in the spring of 1942 their presence in Madagascar was invaluable……The surrender of Diego Suarez was in May 1942. Once the town was in our hands we were able to get several parties ax cross the line into Vichy-controlled territory. That the rest of the island fell with such ease was partly due to the contacts they made.”
After the fall of Madagascar to the allies, Percy and Berthe went to South Africa, where their third child Michael was born in June 1943. She then returned to her family in Mauritius, while Percy, not content with his war effort up to date, took up British citizenship, was given the rank of Major and left for England with his two brothers Richard (Dico) and Andrew (Andy) in order to volunteer as resistance fighters. After a year training with the Special Operations Executive in an English country house as an organiser for “F” Section, Percy, now aged 42, was parachuted over France in April 1944 in the Limoges area. Now known as Commandant Edouard in the Creuse Maquis, he was accompanied by his two brothers Captain Richard (Dico) and Lieutenant Andy. (Incidentally all three spent the weekend at Richard Broad’s home before leaving). Their job was to advise Head Office in Whitehall of the exact position of DZs (Dropping Zones), obtain information, receive and distribute ammunition, destroy bridges and cause road blocks, etc. Often a trained saboteur with a stick of explosives could put railway yards out of action, blow up oil reserves and generally slow down the enemy war effort more precisely and more cheaply than an RAF raid could do. Percy told me that he had to pose as an ordinary citizen and see that his papers were in order. He was in turn an insurance agent, a seller of pigs etc., a wood cutter, and once he took the papers of someone’s illegitimate son who had been sent to Paris to be educated. Most of the time he travelled about on a bicycle. French citizens were, on the whole, too afraid to give assistance and many were openly hostile so there were several close shaves. Sadly, Andy, the youngest brother, was betrayed by a Vichy French “friend” and was tortured to death with fifteen other officers at Buchenwald.
In 1943 Major Percy Mayer was awarded the OBE and in 1944 King George VI personally decorated him and informed him that his wife deserved an equal award. Later he received the MC from General Smutts. In 1943 Berthe was awarded the MBE. Percy was awarded the Croix de Guerre. After the fall of France to the Allies, Percy was sent to Indo-China to act as Liaison Officer between the French and English forces.
When the war was over, Percy returned to Madagascar only to find that his position in Edwin Mayer & Co !td had been taken over by someone else. Fortunately, his uncle Stafford Mayer offered him the management of South African Board Mills in Natal. Joining the company as manager in 1946, he soon proved his ability and drive, to such effect that branches opened in Springs in the Transvaal and in Cape Town.
His engineering skills and inventiveness brought new processes into the paper industries which are now widely adopted in paper mills throughout the world. In Springs he conceived, designed and built the first paper mill in the world on a site away from a river, drawing water from the municipal mains and returning it after it had gone through a purification process. Percy and Berthe built a beautiful home in Kloof, outside Durban, and named it “Bernica” in memory of his Grandfather’s home in Mauritius. In 1973 he retired as Chairman of the board at the age of 70. In 1981 Berthe died. In 1983 Percy and his brother Dico, accompanied by their sister Elsie, journeyed to Ruffec in France for a sentimental reunion with other maquisards headed by Messrs Vervaille, Thibault, Lattry and others. Soon after, Dico died in Reunion Island, and Percy died while on holiday in Mauritius in 1985. A memorial service for Percy was held at the Swedenborgian Church at Westville, Natal, where the Pastor paid tribute to him in these words :
“He was a great patriot who has left a legacy of a most fruitful and useful life. His undaunted spirit and influence will continue to live on even though his physical presence is no longer with us”
Note from Christopher C de Chazal :
I have reproduced this from Virginia Taylor’s book “Two Families of Mauritius”. This book was at the forefront of the revival of interest in the history of the de Chazal Family. Together with the “Dictionaire” compiled and produced by Tristan, and the subsequent development of the Web initially set up by Pierre de Chazal in Australia (his father was Edmond brother of Jeanne which makes him first cousin to Berthe!) and then developed by Jean-Pierre de Chazal, great grandson of Evenor, we have a marvellous record of our recent history.
It is our hope that you will add to the record of de Chazal exploits and achievements by adding your contribution however small and insignificant to the Website.
The Mayer and de Chazal families are inextricably linked. Berthe Mayer married Percy Mayer, her cousin. She was the daughter of Clifford Mayer and Jeanne de Chazal. Her antecedents on the de Chazal side were Jeanne>Pierre>Edmond (who married his cousin Lucy)>Furcy>Toussaint. Berthe was an accomplished pianist who became an associate of the Royal College of Music in London.
The connection between the Mayer and de Chazal family has been brilliantly set out by Hamish Levack on the this Website see “Allied Families>Mayer”
Berthe was born on 12th June 1913 in Lausanne.
I have a personal interest in Percy’s story.
I was born in England in April 1939 soon before WWII was declared. My father Cyril had been sent to Europe for health reasons; I think this was asthma. He met and married my mother, Mary. I believe his work was not interesting, nor remunerative; possibly he was selling the new-fangled electric shaver. Was this before or after working for Ireland Blythe as a clerk, dealing with their Caledonian interests shipping guano round the world? We will never know.
This small family unit travelled to Mauritius; was it to avoid the war, to try to achieve a better standing in society or to return to more familiar territory for my father? It was certainly a journey into the unknown for my mother.
It took us twelve months to get to Mauritius by sea. I wish I knew more about it. Shipping was difficult. From South Africa we got a ship to Madagascar where we were kindly put up by Percy and Berthe, they could not have anticipated our stranding for five months before finding a passage to our final destination. Percy and Berthe remained good friends of my parents.
I had photos of my parents in Madagascar at the time; there was definitely one of my mother and I, a few months old, in front of Percy’s plane. These photos may well be in the archives kept by Tristan in Paris; I passed them all to him after my mother’s death. I hope these photos may one day appear here.
Percy was certainly a patriot, a man of conviction, courageous, a leader of men. He undoubtedly had a spiritual faith that saw him through many difficulties; he would not have survived with it.
Percy’s son Paul and his wife Moira have registered to be at the Reunion in Switzerland in August 2015. Thelma and I are much looking forward to meeting them again. Perhaps we will all reunite at “Valcreuse”